MLB: NL East Preseason Division Predictions

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The NL East contains power hitters, experienced pitchers, youth, potential and promise. While a two-team race is expected, anything is possible.

Over the past two seasons, the NL East has gone either way. In 2015, the division race was incredibly close despite problems for both the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. At the trade deadline, the Nationals remained silent, while the Mets did what they could to try and improve their team. The improvements the Mets made paid off, and they went on a nearly unstoppable run in August and September. This success led to a division title, their first since 2006. The Nationals, meanwhile, missed the postseason despite being heavily favored to make it.

In the offseason, both teams would make improvements, as the Mets signed Asdrubal Cabrera and traded for Neil Walker, while the Nationals signed Daniel Murphy and traded for Ben Revere. The 2016 season was a different year, as the Nationals ran away with the division crown, while the Mets struggled to find footing until late August. After acquiring Jay Bruce from the Reds, the Mets went on a strong run to finish the season once again. This led to a Wild Card berth, and for the first time ever, both the Mets and the Nationals were in the postseason together. Both teams would be eliminated quickly, as the Mets were blanked by the Giants in the Wild Card Game, and the Nationals were defeated by the Dodgers in the NLDS.

This year, the division looks to once again be a two-team race on paper. However, the Marlins, Braves and Phillies all made some key offseason moves, and could also improve this season. The NL East, as a result, may become one of the stronger divisions in 2017.

Here are the projected standings for the NL East in 2017.

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Last Place: Philadelphia Phillies

Projected Record: 75-87

Last season marked the end of an era. The last two members of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies parted ways with the team. Ryan Howard is now a free agent, while the Phillies traded Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers late last year (he is currently a member of the Seattle Mariners). Now, the Phillies continue to turn their attention to the future. Over the past few seasons, several young stars broke out, with one of them (Odubel Herrera) even earning an All-Star selection in the process. With the crop of young talent growing, the future of the Phillies looks bright. The present, however, still looks bleak.

The Phillies made some acquisitions during the offseason, acquiring Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, Clay Buchholz, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek. Kendrick provides depth at multiple positions, while Saunders provides the lineup with the left-handed power bat Ryan Howard left unfilled. Benoit and Neshek could tremendously help the young, inconsistent Phillies bullpen, while Buchholz provides more veteran presence to balance the starting rotation. These moves are not insignificant, but any improvement for the Phillies would be accepted.

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Fourth Place: Atlanta Braves

Projected Record: 77-85

Moving into a new stadium brings a new attitude for front offices: new look, new team. The Atlanta Braves were definitely active during the offseason as expected, acquiring a wide variety of veterans. Their starting rotation is completely reshaped with R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Josh Collmenter and Jaime Garcia behind Julio Teheran. The Braves have depth with Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Mike Foltynewicz, so pitching may not be their biggest issue.

The team also has a Gold Glove outfield with offensive pop as well, with Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp leading the charge. The Braves also filled some infield holes, acquiring catcher Kurt Suzuki and second baseman Brandon Phillips. A lineup featuring these players along with Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson could make some noise in 2017.

The bullpen is the biggest issue for the Braves going into the season. The team does not have a set closer, but three potential names (Jim Johnson, Mauricio Cabrera and Jose Ramirez) are being considered viable options. Last year, the bullpen of the Braves was relatively inconsistent, and this year may be no different. The Braves look to be in a better position than they were last season, but it might not be enough to make a significant amount of noise.

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Third Place: Miami Marlins

Projected Record: 83-79

Last season was a tough, but promising season for the Miami Marlins. Miami hovered around .500 until July, but a 16-10 record in July helped them break out in the NL East. The Marlins kept an above-.500 record from April to the early portion of September, and were involved in the NL Wild Card race. A rough month of August (10-18 record), however, turned their season around, and their momentum was lost from there until the end of the year. The biggest blow to the team came in late September, when it was announced star pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragically killed. It was during that week the Marlins were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

This year, the Marlins enter the season with two new additions to their rotation: Dan Straily, who broke out as the Reds ace in 2016, and Edinson Volquez, who is coming off a down year in Kansas City. Volquez has a lower career ERA in the National League than the American League, so that will definitely be an advantage. Last year, the Marlins led the NL East and were second in the NL in batting average, but they were also among the lowest-scoring major league teams. Their lineup didn’t change in the offseason, but a fully healthy roster, along with a solid pitching rotation may help the Marlins make a splash in 2017.

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Second Place: New York Mets

Projected Record: 85-77

Now, we get to the top two teams. The Mets and Nationals have been battling to be the NL East champion over the past two years. In 2015, it was the Mets’ year. In 2016, it was the Nationals’ year. The 2017 season will not be the Mets’ year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still make an impact.

There are several question marks for the Mets going into 2017. The starting rotation is the main issue. Four of the five projected starters for the Mets are all coming off injury-plagued 2016 campaigns, and even Noah Syndergaard had his own issues. Zack Wheeler has not pitched a major league game since 2014, while Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all dealt with injuries involving their throwing arms. While this season will be the first where all members of the “dream rotation” are on the roster together, their health and durability remains questionable.

The Mets’ lineup also has several question marks. Last season, the Mets couldn’t catch a break with injuries, and Cespedes, Walker, Cabrera, Wright, Duda, d’Arnaud and Flores all saw time on the disabled list. Even with all of them on the roster, the Mets were still one of the weaker offensive teams in 2016. Considering the Mets didn’t go all out in the offseason, that may not change this season. This season looks to be similar to last season, which is good enough to make a run for a Wild Card spot, but not enough to win the NL East.

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First Place: Washington Nationals

Projected Record: 90-72

A two-team race is expected this year in the NL East. However, the Nationals seem more ready than the Mets do to repeat as division champions. The Nationals had a somewhat disappointing, but also somewhat successful offseason. The team acquired Adam Eaton from the White Sox, although trading away Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez for Eaton was questionable. Washington acquired catcher Derek Norris, before signing Matt Wieters to be their everyday catcher. These moves fill the holes in the lineup left behind by Wilson Ramos and Ben Revere. They also allow Trea Turner to play his natural position of shortstop, after the Nationals traded former shortstop Danny Espinosa.

The Nationals do enter the season without a set closer, but their bullpen was very reliable last season, and they do have a wide variety of closer options. Offensively, the Nationals still have many weapons in their arsenal, and their rotation is still incredibly stacked. If the chemistry and production are both there, it looks like this could be the Nationals’ year to repeat as champions of the NL East.

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